Grace Vs. Boundaries: Who wins?



As a therapist, I’m constantly faced with which road to take when a mother tells me about her wayward child, or a wife is describing how her husband will not change, but she can’t leave because of xyz.  Should she draw the line in the proverbial sand and yell “that’s enough, get out of here; or, you’re a grown man you should be able to take care of your responsibilities!”  Or, should she, filled with the Spirit of God after all, extend grace like a hall pass, prolonging consequences or getting rid of them altogether?  

Grace Wins, for now

There are a plethora of people who have written on the subject of boundaries.  I’ve read a ton myself.  But the feeling(s) I always get after slowly tossing their ideas around in my head and then digesting the worthy ones, is that I wonder if these people have (or have had) a severely addicted, traumatized, depressed loved one, or a dear one that is rebellious.  A prodigal for reasons that are more-than-likely not entirely under their control.  Yesterday, I told a story of my own life where an absence of boundaries saved me…

“Exiting the bar Fishbones around 2 a.m., in-and-out of a drunkin’ stuper, I lifted my head toward the lit up Tulsa skyline faintly realizing that I had to walk my way there, about 6 miles, to find refuge.  A lot of times, I wouldn’t make it downtown, I would just stumble my way to a highway, in a ditch or under a bridge, to pass out.  Most of the shelters required that you be in by 6 or 7 pm when they locked the doors.  On this night, it was too cold for me to pass out in a ditch, I would surely get frostbite or worse.  So I stammered my way over bypasses, through creeks, and passed other homeless people, landing at the Salvation Army’s doorstep, once again.  Freezing, with my knees clapping one another, I hesitantly knocked on the icy door.  Tap, Tap.  Nothing.  Tap, Tap again.  Nothing.  And then, as I imagined my death from freeze-out a nun of a lady cracked the door for me and out of her warm breath came the words, “Jeff, we have your mat ready for you in the hallway.”

They were instructed to not let anyone in under any circumstances after 7.  But erasing the line in the sand, this nun-like lady chose to have faith that I still had hope, despite my rebellious, hurt, damaged, self-harming ways.  Had she turned a blind eye, yes, she would have been firm in following the rules/boundaries and no I wouldn’t have blamed her.  But, in her heart I think she could see passed the need for discipline, correction and rehabilitation.  Besides, at that time, I was so suicidal that neither her nor any of her constituents could have saved me with firm boundaries. Wasn't possible. Maybe she saw and discerned that security, time and space to work through my issues were the only hope that could awaken my soul.  I’ll never forget that Salvation Army and that selfless nun-of-an-angel.  This time, grace won!

Boundaries Win, Or Do They?

Grace doesn’t always win though, or does it.  Many months ago, when I worked at The Village, a rehab center on the mountain near where I live, I slammed the phone and told her to leave.  Rachael, we'll call her, a therapy client of mine, yelled at her parents to get her a hotel for the fifth time, “just get me a hotel room for the night, then I’ll figure things out from there!” she shrilled like Veruca Salt…”But daddy, I want the golden egg, NOW!”  

As soon as her breath reached her lips to begin to say it again, I hung up the phone.  Stood up.  Yelled, "Go get your bags young lady!  You’re leaving! If you don’t want to go to the sober living house, we can’t help you, and I won’t play any part in your sickness!”  I opened the door and she began walking down the long hall.  Like my 10-year-old does when he’s in trouble, she would walk a stretch, look back, walk another stretch, look back, and sigh...hmmmmmmmaaa. The whole time I just stood there like a solid statue pointing my index finger at her.  She grabbed her stuff, got to the exit door and announced, “how am I going to get anywhere?  My phone’s dead and you won’t let me charge it.” With the line firmly drawn, I said,“not our problem missy.”

The stress of the finality of my stance must have sent her over the recovery edge.  Crying, she turned around and said, “Jeff, I’m so sorry, I don’t want to be homeless, I’ll do whatever you want.”  She went to the sober living environment and I never heard from "little missy" again.

Boundaries, this time won, but only in the form of grace.  While it wasn't easy knowing that she, a raging heroine addict, could very well die on the streets, grace, this time in the form of a painful boundary, won.  So, the form of a boundary wins.  You see, going along with her hotel idea would have pleased her, yes, but she would've surely met her maker through overdose or some other tragedy.  But, I had the hope that the pain of the boundary would be enough to gently chip at her heart, and change her direction.  I think it worked...   

These are my thoughts on Grace Vs. Boundaries...what are yours?

(While the author is a licensed professional counselor, this is not an attempt to provide therapy or any other form of professional treatment, not even a bit.  The writings are merely the author’s experiences while overcoming anxiety, depression and on life in general. And in no way are they an effort to provide counseling or any other professional services.  If you need professional help, by golly, seek it deserve it!)